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Monday, May 23, 2016

Afterthoughts - Agile Coaching Camp Finland 2016

I had the great privilege to take part in the first Agile Coaching Camp held in Finland (also known as #accfi). The event was held in open space format apart from the prescheduled workshops. Around forty people showed up for the three day event although there would have been room for more. It would have been a different kind of event then, though.

The venue, Herrankukkaro (Turku archipelago), and the weather (around 20°) were in our favor. I spent a lot of time outside myself and managed to shed my nerd tan (no tan).

The Open Space Format 

There was food. Lots of it.
It was my first experience with the open space format. The idea is that rather than fixing a schedule beforehand, you'll develop it on-site.

This means anyone can announce and contribute a session and become the host of it. In case nobody shows up, you can close down the session and move on elsewhere.

The point is that often the best part of conferences are the informal discussions outside of the main program. If you drop the formal part, or minimize it, then you can skip straight to the valuable portion. That's the key insight here. Letting people to operate within a theme can lead to cool results as sessions are generated on demand.

It's entirely acceptable to move between sessions and figure out what works for you at a given time. The nice thing about the format is that it allows themes to emerge. The topics people find interesting simply have more sessions about them.

General Thoughts

Usual Finland. Not much to see here.
There were roughly eight sessions going on at the best. That was plenty to choose from. This time particularly topics such as nonviolent communication (nvc), mob programming, and testing stood out.

I was prepared to help people get their book projects started on a good note, but there just was no interest. You can still check out the slides if you want, though.

I feel the amount of people (42) was just about right. I've been to those conferences that have hundreds of people but then it gets hard to connect. With a limited amount you have more chance to build stronger connections. I'm not much of a networker myself so this definitely helped.

Systemic Constellations

There was plenty of sea related decoration around.
One great thing about going to conferences is that you will pick up ideas and methods you otherwise would just skip.

Certain methods need live demonstration to truly sink in. Systemic constellations is one of those. It is a way to diagnose personal, professional, and organizational issues.

The idea is that you will model the problem in terms of people. Each will represent one part of it (say "client", "developer", "manager"). You can even have persons as abstract things like "project" or "country" there.

First you will move people into initial positions and directions to represent the issue in question. After that you will begin making changes to the constellation.

The surprising thing is that changing the constellation yields data. You may even notice that it needs more actors. You will discover hidden connections this way and gain empathy towards the situation.

That's the powerful part. Given people are emotional beings, they'll begin to resonate with the problem even if they are completely unrelated to it personally. This is what leads to insights that may be used to solve the underlying issue.

Nonviolent Communication (NVC)

NVC is a related topic. You could say it looks at the same problem, but from a different direction. The rough idea is that even words can be violent. The words said can be a symptom of an underlying problem that has to do with personal needs and feelings. If you realize this and become aware of the underlying motivations, you can gain empathy needed to get around the problem and resolve it.

Again, the core point is simple. But by recognizing there's something behind what's being said helps to bring perspective to the situation. That's what systemic constellations achieve as well, they provide perspective that allows you to look at what's going on with more objective eyes.

Agile Games

I participated in a variety of agile related games. One of the interesting ones was known as the "social rules game". The game models what happens when you start breaking established norms and perhaps make us more aware that norms exist. It's a discussion game where you agree on a topic and basic rules of interaction.

It all starts out as a normal conversation within a group. It becomes more challenging as each participant is given certain rules to follow. Initially these are simple enough such as "stand up while talking" but eventually they become tough and disruptive like "go against all the rules". It's a great way to challenge the norms and get some laughs without offending anyone too much.

There were also team building games like non musical chairs. We also tried variants like zombie chairs (randomized chair positioning). Simple games such as these are good for illustrating what happens to team dynamics when the environment changes. They are also nice for building team spirit.


Sunrise (yup, slept too late) before breaking myself with some yoga
I think going to the event was worth the price of admission. I would be willing to pay even more now that I know the "product" is solid and I hope to participate again in the future if I get the chance. I guess this spoiled regular conferences for me, though.

If you have an open space conference (or "unconference") nearby, consider taking part. The idea might feel a bit silly at first, but it likely works better than you think.